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Taking sides is fine, but let’s be civil

The woman calls me during hours she knows I will not be in my office. She doesn’t leave a name. She leaves a rant. She is obsessed with John Ward, a Rathdrum NASCAR dad I’ve written about semi-regularly this election season.

He is Republican. When I met him last February, he was solidly for Bush. He has never wavered. The ranting woman keeps asking when I will expose the flaws she perceives in his political beliefs.

Here’s my answer: Never.

The anger this woman feels toward a person she has never met mystifies and even scares me. She’s mad at me now, too. In her last message she called me a weasel. The anger in the Republican-paid voices of the women who leave me nasty messages about candidate Don Barbieri make me angry, too. But I am not going to fight venom with venom.

We’ve all got to get a grip here. Just because a person is voting for George Bush, and other Republican candidates, does not mean that person is evil. Just because a person is voting for John Kerry, and other Democrats, does not mean that person is evil.

Why have people’s political choices become so personal this election year? I don’t get it.

John Ward and I are very different people living very different lives. Yet I learned a lot by listening to the reasons he supports George Bush, our president, a man I can barely watch on television. And I hope he learned a bit from me, too.

In our goodbye conversation this week, the 41-year-old lieutenant with Kootenai County Fire and Rescue reiterated the reasons he’s voting for Bush. He feels safer against the terrorist threat with Bush in office. He feels Bush will get the job done in Iraq. He thinks the economy is revving and blames the Clinton administration for the economic downslide Bush inherited.

He doesn’t like the deficit, but he fears it will worsen under Kerry’s proposed social programs. And he’s no fan of Teresa Heinz Kerry. “And I sure as heck don’t want another attorney as president and vice president,” John said.

I shared with John the reasons I’m voting for Kerry. I want all those young men and women to come home from Iraq as soon as possible. I think Kerry can do this more quickly. I want a president who seems smart and articulate.

I believe the poor and voiceless have been neglected for four years and a Kerry administration will focus on their issues once more. I’m intrigued by the thought of an outspoken first lady. And I’m from a family of lawyers, so that part doesn’t worry me.

As you can see, we don’t agree at all. But neither one of us takes it personally. “Everybody has a right to their political preference,” John said.

And we both might be overconfident in the rightness of our choices. In an August 2004 Psychology Today article, Wake Forest University psychology professor Mark Leary wrote that people judge themselves as better than others in almost every way. People think they are smarter, nicer-looking, sexier, more mature and less prejudiced in comparison with others around them. They even think they are more likely to go to heaven!

“We are almost always at least one step removed from the real world, separated from it by our ongoing thoughts, interpretations, opinions and judgments,” Leary wrote. “And, perhaps most troubling, we are nearly blind to the illusions we have about ourselves.”

Julian of Norwich, a 14th century English mystic, wrote these consoling words as the bubonic plague raged around her: “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

Some acquaintances have told me they will consider moving to Canada if Bush wins again. But they need not panic. No matter what happens Tuesday, our crazy, messy democracy will keep on sudsing. All shall be well.

I’m thankful to NASCAR dad John Ward for letting me into his life. If my gratitude toward him makes me a weasel, so be it. If you believe all the angry rhetoric of this fall’s campaigns, I’m in good company.